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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Dunkin’ Donuts Eliminates Nanomaterials From Powdered Donuts

There are concerns about the use of nanomaterials, such as titanium dioxide, in food products. One company has responded to consumer pressure to remove these ingredients from its products. That company is Dunkin’ Brands Group, parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts. Earlier this month, the company announced it will remove the whitening agent titanium dioxide from all the powdered sugar used to coat its donuts.

As  result of the announcement, the advocacy group As You Sow withdrew its shareholder proposal asking the company to assess and reduce the risks of nanomaterials in its food products. A similar shareholder proposal made last year at the company’s annual meeting received 18.7 percent support.

“This is a groundbreaking decision,” Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel of As You Sow said in a statement. By removing titanium dioxide from its donuts, the company has “demonstrated strong industry leadership,” Fugere added. She expressed concern that engineered nanomaterials are entering the food supply “despite not being proven safe for consumption.”

As You Sow is “pleased” that Dunkin’ Donuts will remove titanium dioxide from the powdered sugar it uses on its donuts, the advocacy group stated in a letter. In 2013, research conducted by independent laboratory tests, and commissioned by As You Sow, found that all of Dunkin’ Donuts’ white powdered donuts contained titanium dioxide nanomaterials.

The down-low on nanomaterials

As the advocacy group explains, nanomaterials are “substances engineered to have extremely small dimensions.” Since they are small, they can reach nooks and crannies within the body, and, the concern goes, cause greater toxicity. There is little safety information regarding nanomaterials, particularly for use in food products.

What’s the big deal about the use of nanomaterials in food? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the use of nanomaterials in food products. The FDA warns it is not aware of any available data for food ingredients on the nanometer scale to determine if their use is generally recognized as safe. Asbestos is a nanomaterial, and it was used before its toxicity was fully understood. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement for the use of nanomaterials in food.

How companies can deal with the use of nanomaterials

As You Sow created a Policy for Nanomaterials in Food and Packaging. The policy states that nanotoxicology studies “indicate a range of harms can be caused by ingestion, inhalation, and/or dermal exposure to a variety of nanomaterials.” Some of the recommendations of the policy include a company adopting a public policy that clearly explains its practices concerning use of nanomaterials in its food and beverage products and packaging. The policy should be available on the company’s website.

A visible policy is a start for companies using nanomaterials in food. Consumers have a right to know what is in the food products they buy. It would be even better for companies to follow the lead of Dunkin’ Donuts and stop using them until the FDA determines their safe use.

Image credit: sameold2010

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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